Our off season has begun, amidst a very what if mood and feeling. Our fourth last second defensive collapse of the season was a bitter ending to a game that felt almost destined to end with the last team holding the ball having a chance to win.
First, hats off to our fanbase. From the Tanzania endzone to the slickest uniforms in the league, our Twelves are the loudest and best dressed in the league. 8-0 at home. Best home field advantage in the league. Even Niner fans are counting a loss in Seattle for the 2013 season. They just know. Arizona is too. St Louis is full of hope, but they just know that trip is going to suck. Minnesota gets a return trip, New Orleans gets to come back to the scene of the Beastquake (and my guess is that will be an early season prime time game), the Bucs bring their under performing squad to town, and the schedule rounds out with cupcakes Jacksonville and Tennessee. Welcome home Jake, and maybe Matt.
The road schedule is not so easy. In addition to our conference opponents, we draw Houston, Indy and the Great Hype of Andrew Luck, the Giants, Carolina and a revenge spot at Atlanta. Potentially 6 early starts. Hopefully a couple of those end up on Sunday or Monday night, I definitely can see three of them being desirable to the networks.
So where do we go from here? What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? And considering what happened in Atlanta, are some of our perceived strengths actually weaknesses?
First of all, isn't it nice to know our quarterback position is not an area of weakness for the next few years, maybe even a decade or more? Chalk up a few wins every year for the forseeable future just because the best quarterback in the NFC West, and one of the top 5 in the league is probably breaking down that loss as my digits hit these keys. The league is Witness, and so are you. Revel in it, players like this guy are rare. As are people like Russell. In fact, let's take just a second and celebrate Russell Wilson the human. I see and read the effect he has on people who resolve to do better in life because they admire how he is living his. Lets not Deify the man, but lets all take a moment and see how we can imitate his best. Do you know where your nearest children's hospital is? Do you know that you don't have to be a football player to volunteer your most valuable resource, your time? Russell knows. Positivity and a humble attitude can be contagious. We saw what it can do to a team, see what it can do for you. I know I will try my damnedest.
Gear change. Halfway into the season, with our team sitting at 4-4, it seemed that our Receiver corps needed big help. It still needs help, but with the offense being one of the best in the league the last 8 games, it isn't the biggest need. Will it be addressed? Abso Freakin Lutely. the Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards gambits were a nod to that. I expect that position to be bolstered. However, Tate and Rice have proven to be playmakers. Tate is on the verge of truly special. His comeback play on a Wilson scramble in the Atlanta game was instinctive, and counterintuitive for a receiver. Rice and Wilson still have not really established a shared intuition yet. The end zone view shows that Rice struggles to get into space when Wilson is scrambling many times. This is a skill that our receivers MUST develop more, because it will always be a big part of his game. All you amateur scouts out there, pay particular attention to college players who show good instincts while their quarterback is scrambling! those are guys who will thrive in Seattle.
The tight end position is similar, the Kellen Winslow and Evan Moore signings were a nod to the need. The last half of the season saw talk about Zach Miller costing too much in 2013 dissipate like so much smoke. Zach Miller and Wilson have a real and developing rapport. Anthony McCoy had some big plays, but he is just slow, and drops seem to be part of his makeup. A fast tight end could be a real bonus.
What a season from Marshawn Lynch. When the season began, the looming DUI was the talk of the town, and it still looms, but feels forgotten. On my back, Daw. Lynch carried this team, and the toll began to show at the end of the season. Here is hoping Turbin can get more chances to take the pressure of him next year, we will likely need his legs strong and fresh for the playoffs. Our staff is wise enough to always consider power back an area of need, no doubt they will find another one to flesh out the roster. Washington is not getting younger, and our team loves the young, but he brings emotion to his damn good return game. Maybe they look for another kick returner to at least compete? Robinson is MANNNNNNN.
Which brings me to our offensive line. Opinions are divided here. The pure number of yards Lynch got after contact suggests this line is not as good as the numbers might say, but overall the run blocking was well above average. Two all stars in Unger and Okung, but after that the flaws are apparent. Penalties were clearly the biggest issues this unit had, but it did improve as the season wore on. Pass blocking was an area of weakness, covered up a lot by having a rabbit play quarterback. That rabbit means this unit will hardly be an area of focus, there are simply bigger areas of need. With Omiyale, Moffitt/Sweezy, Carpenter, Rishaw Johnson, the depth is spectacular. Probably a player will be added, bit I would look for the starters of this line to all come from the current roster.
And now the Defense. Grumble Grumble.
Stressing the positive, our defense has some spectacular players. The weaknesses aren't glaring, but they are far too exploitable for very patient offenses.
Add to that this: We have a dangerous, but unique offense in San Francisco that makes team building in the NFC West strangely difficult. Build a team to more traditional 4-3 specs so you can compete with the rest of the league, and you risk building a team the Niners can exploit with their jumbo line sets and pistol quarterback.
So what is the answer? We can debate about Marcus Trufant and Leroy Hill all day long, but the simple truth is that they are old and have to be replaced regardless of their effectiveness. Now, maybe the nickel Corner is already on the roster, but it is a position that should be treated as a third starting corner no matter what. I hope this will be addressed from outside the team, but I don't expect it. Nickel is so much different than press outside coverage, and it seems clear that Thurmond(break in case of fire)Thurmond and Lane are press corners. A man coverage specialist would be SOOO NICE, but I think Pete values corners who are versatile way too much to get some smallish nickel guy for the slot. He likes his bigger guys, and with Thurmond and Browner either in need of a new contract or replacement after 2013, there simply won't be room for some nickel specialist.
Linebacker is a different story. Wagner has to improve at some of his gap fits, but overall had a great year, and his speed advantage in stopping pistol quarterbacks was so clear that it makes having another speed linebacker of his ilk on the roster inevitable. A guy with good coverage skill would be nice. Our linebacker depth was good this year, but the need for that guy who can run faster than Hill was plain, and I will be stunned if we don't get a linebacker like that in the draft or free agency.
And that leaves the real area of need. Pass rush. Red Bryant is such an emotional leader of this team that I feel bad saying this, but he is becoming a liability simply because our offense is becoming so good that the lack of pass rush is more important than run stuffing. Mebane is good, his backup McDonald is adequate, Branch is a good situation guy, neither Clemons or Irvin are consistent, and with Clemons likely to be invisible in 2013, the pass rush is a crisis right now. A lot of you readers have hung the loss in Atlanta on Bradley, but the simple truth is that a lack of interior push cost us in that game from beginning to end. IMO, it was the deciding factor. Edge pressure is nice for splash plays, but there is simply no substitute for the uncomfortable feeling quarterbacks get when the pocket is retreating.
Irvin is a specialist, and I saw little from him this year to suggest that another year of weights and instruction will make him anything other than a speed guy. He has the athletic profile of Clay Matthews, but not the motor. I don't question his drive, don't get me wrong, I question his inventiveness in the moment. I think he is a 3-4 OLB, pure and simple. Putting him on the line of scrimmage in a stance minimizes his one true skill.
And the decline and then eventual loss of Jason Jones highlighted how much interior pressure we need to get. Scruggs shows great potential, but the need for another quick defensive tackle is clear. I think Pete will see this as the biggest priority on the team. We may see both a rookie and a free agent at this spot.
Now for the good news. Lots of teams are in coaching transition right now, and with transition comes scheme change. And with scheme change comes quality players on the open market or available for trade. Will we make a weakness into a strength in 2013? I hope so.
As for the coaching, while Bradley and Bevell have taken their lumps from the Twelves, me included, we can win a Super Bowl with these coordinators if they remain in Seattle. It seemed at times our road gameplans were too bent on controlling the clock. Pete admitted as much after the Miami game. In a league with rules that favor passing, not taking full advantage is just stubborn. In games where defenses seem intent on stopping the run at all cost, like Miami and Atlanta, the decision to take advantage on offense has to come sooner.
On defense, when focused exclusively on stopping the big play, we turn into one of the worst defenses in the league. See Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, and Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall. We can talk about the coordinator's merits all day, Pete has to adjust first. I want to make clear that this coaching flaw is not damning, and in fact, if we can clear up the personnel issues on the defensive line so that our road pass rush more closely resembles our home pass rush, the conservative coaching at the end of games will go away. In no way do I advocate abandoning the run. Right now Seattle is 55/45 run. A more balanced split, even 55/45 pass is not unreasonable considering both the talent and rules.
Will our coaching staff adjust? I think they will. Russell Wilson is the best player on this team, and building it around him has to be the next evolution for our offense. With that will come less emphasis on power running. Not less importance, just less emphasis.
So, in summation, thank all of you for an awesome season at .NET, thanks to the Seahawks for an entertaining and hope inspiring season, and thank you if you made it all the way to this part of the post.
Now, for the draft...